Jos 03 | Hark, the Ark!

Text: Joshua 3

It’s sobering to realize that one day can alter your entire life. In just twenty-four hours your world, with its hopes and plans, can be reduced to ashes–or it can be wondrously transformed beyond your wildest expectations. The direction of world history has often been determined by the events of a single day.

It was that way with Israel. In one day they moved out of forty years of failure and reproach into the greatest era of their history. A nation flat on its back sprang to its feet and marched victoriously into a new land.

What was special about that day?: What was the key to their triumph? This isn’t an idle question simply to satisfy historical curiosity. Remember that the events of that day were recorded as examples to us. God’s methods, like Himself, do not change, and to discover the key to Israel’s victory is to discover the key to our own.

The third chapter of Joshua relates the happenings of that day. A close study shows that the main figure in the drama was the ark of the covenant. It is mentioned ten times.

And they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it… “And it shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off… .And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan (Joshua 3:3, 13, 17).

Without question, the ark was the key to their victory. But what was different about it on that day? They had possessed the ark, made according to God’s instructions, since Moses met God on Mount Sinai. During the long, bitter years of wandering, the ark had been in their midst, but there had been no victory.

But now, on this day, something had changed. Do you know what it was? The position of the ark. Before, the ark had been in the midst of the Israelites; now it was at their head. The ark had always gone with the people, but now the people were to go with the ark. God commanded them not to move until they saw the ark. As it came into view they were to follow it; it was to be kept in sight all the time. When the priests, carrying the ark, stepped into the swollen river, the waters halted and rose in a heap. And while the priests, still carrying the ark, stood in the middle, the entire nation walked across on dry ground. It was the ark!

The Old Testament ark was a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Ark of the New Covenant. We have possessed Him since the day of our salvation, but possession alone doesn’t guarantee victory. It isn’t the possession of Christ but the position of Christ that counts. The difference between the victorious Christian and the defeated Christian is not in what they possess. God doesn’t play favorites, giving one believer a larger portion of His Spirit than He gives another. We are all complete in Christ (Colossians 2:9). The difference lies in the position the possession occupies in each life. Only when Christ is enthroned as Lord and Leader can we experience His fullness. It’s one thing to accept the Lordship of Christ as an article of faith and quite another to accept it as a practical, governing force in our lives. Is He Lord? Does He control your actions, attitudes and affections? Is He Lord at home, at school, at work?  J. Hudson Taylor was correct when he said that Christ is either Lord of all or not Lord at all. He is Lord of everything or not Lord of anything.

Simply stated, the key to the victorious Christian life is the enthroning of Jesus Christ as Lord.


The land of Canaan had belonged to Israel for years, but they had never set foot in it until they had followed the ark across the Jordan River. The ark was the door to their unclaimed possessions and the unexperienced blessings.

What I’m going to say now is the most important statement I’ll make. The victorious life is not an experience or a formula or a certain way of behaving–IT IS A PERSON. That person is Jesus Christ; He is the victorious life. Triumphant living isn’t getting things from Christ; it is realizing we already have all things in Christ. Jesus said “I am the door…” to abundant life (John 10:9, 10). The abundant life is the life of Jesus residing, reigning, and released in the believer.

My favorite passage is Colossians s 2:9,10: “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…” What can you add to completeness? When God gave us Christ, He gave us everything, for all the fullness of the Godhead abides in Him. After we’ve been in heaven a million years, we’ll possess no more of God than we do right now. Only the circumstances of that possession will be different.

Think of it like this: Jesus doesn’t give peace; He is our Peace (Ephesians 2:14). He doesn’t give knowledge; He is our Knowledge (Colossians 2:3); He doesn’t give wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; He is all these things Himself (I Corinthians 1:30). If we’re hungry, He is the Bread of Life; if we’re thirsty, He is the Fountain of Living Water; if we’re lost, He is the Way; if we’re blind, He is the Light of the World; if we’re lonely, He is the Friend that sticks closer than a brother; if we’re dying He is the Resurrection and the Life. He’s the Way and what we find at the end of the Way. He is the Door and what we find on the other side of the Door. He is the Fountain and the Water that flows from the Fountain. He is the cause of His own effect and the effect of His own cause; He is the means and the end. He is God’s everything to the believer!

My wife has given birth to three children. I suppose the first thing mothers all over the world do the fist time they hold their baby is check to see if they are all there! You know–all the standard equipment: ten toes, two ears, one mouth. At birth God gave our three children everything they would ever need to live physically. Lying helpless in the crib they didn’t know what to do with their feet–they didn’t even know they had feet. When it came time for them to walk we didn’t have to take them to the hospital and tell the doctor to put on their legs. Legs are standard equipment on babies, God’s birthday gift to them, even though at the time they can’t use them to walk. But the day came when our children discovered that those two things they had been dragging behind them would support them, and, if placed one in front of the other, would take them where mother said not to go. A whole new world opened up and life was never the same again–for them or for us! Physical growth is discovering what you received at birth and learning to use it.

Likewise, at my spiritual birth God gave me everything I would ever need to live spiritually–Jesus Christ. And spiritual growth is discovering what God gave me at salvation ad learning to appropriate it. Like the baby who learns to walk, when we discover we are complete in Christ and learn to appropriate all He is for all we need, life is never again the same.


When you see the ark.. .then you shall set out from your place and go after it. However, there shall be between you and I a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before (Joshua 3:3,4)

It has always been God’s pattern to lead His people where they have never been. He called Abraham into a far country–He didn’t even tell him what country. Joseph went from a rural society into slavery and finally to the ruling seat of a sophisticated culture. Paul, an elite Jew, became a missionary to the despised Gentiles.

Joshua was confronted with a Herculean task–an untried leader guiding an unsettled people into an unknown country. And if that wasn’t enough, the fist thing they had to do was ford an unfordable river. How? God’s directions were simple: “Just keep your eye on the ark.”

“You have not passed this way before.” I don’t know a phrase that better depicts the adventure of daily living. No one knows what a day may bring. Each day is unexplored territory. No one has ever lived it before. Every person is an amateur. Sometimes it’s like walking barefoot through snake-infested grass at night without a flashlight. This is one of the things that makes life such a terrifying undertaking for so many people.

But we really don’t need to know where we’re headed or how we’ll get there–we need only to watch for the Ark and go after it. Years ago I heard an old preacher say, “Don’t start down the road till you see Jesus.” That’s what God was saying to Joshua.

Keeping our eyes on Jesus means we depend upon Him. We count on His ability, of our inability. The overwhelming lesson of the Jordan crossing is that the power of God negates the problems of man.

Keeping our eyes on Jesus also means we focus our attention on Him and not on the hindrances. And that’s the main reason God leads us through unknown territory–He is really leading us to Himself. If He had revealed to Abraham the location of the far country, Abraham would have fixed his eyes on the destination and would have determined for himself when he had traveled far enough Since God alone knew the destination, Abraham had to keep his eyes on God–which is where God wanted them. Of course, we prefer to know all the details of the trip, every hill and curve and turn, but God prefers we know how to follow Him. Perhaps this will unravel the mystery of why God is keeping you in the dark about a certain situation. He may be using it to draw you into a deeper and more intimate fellowship with Himself.

This makes it necessary that nothing block our view of Him. God told Israel to keep the ark in front of them at a distance of about four and a half football field “that you may know the way by which you shall go.” In other words, the ark was to be clearly visible at all times; nothing was to come between it and the people. Imagine what would have happened if the people had jammed around the ark. It would have disappeared in the crowd and every Israelite, without knowing it, would have ended up following the person in front of him. Talk about the blind leading the blind! I can picture a gang of them winding up in some dead-end wasteland, scratching their heads in bewilderment, and hurling accusations at one another.

“I was following you! I thought you were following the ark.”

“Not me. I was following him. I thought he was following it.”

“Not me. I haven’t see the thing for days. I was following him. He acted like he knew where he was going.”

That very thing is happening today among believers. No wonder so few ever make it to the Promised Land.


While at a youth conference, I heard someone sing, “Christ is a Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” That’s a beautiful sentiment, but untrue. Many seem to think that the victorious life is a vaccine against problems. Neither the life of Jesus nor the lives of the disciples bear this out. Christ doesn’t elevate us above problems. He isn’t a bridge over troubled waters, but He is a path through them.

All of us must pass through troubled waters. Not a single Israelite was exempt from the crossing; each one had to pass through the flood. I have no doubt that many trembled as they hurried by the towering mountain of water poised over them. In the middle of your Jordan it doesn’t matter that others have been there and safely reached the opposite side; you feel as though you’re the only one who has stood in that place. I know; I’ve been there.

But that’s where the Ark is! Thank God, right in the middle of your Jordan with that menacing wall of water frowning upon you, you find the Ark. What a relief! Surely the water won’t rash down upon the Ark. While it’s there, you’re safe. I don’t think you ever know how real Jesus can be until you meet Him in the middle of an unconquerable problem. And that is preparation for greater battles. For when you encounter Him in your raging torrent, you know for sure He can manage a land full of giants.

I heard of a Sunday school teacher who asked her class of small girls if one of them could quote the 23rd Psalm. A girl timidly raised her hand and said she could. ‘She stood in front of the class and said, “The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I want.”

I think she quoted it correctly. For when the Shepherd is your Lord, He becomes everything you want–that is the victorious life.

©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002

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